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6 out of 10 UK fish are being overfished or are in a 'critical' state

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The UK fisheries audit released today (22 January) by the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation, Oceana, paints a disturbing picture of the state of UK fish stocks. Only 36% of the 104 audited stocks were known to be healthy in terms of stock size and only 38% sustainably exploited. Oceana calls on the UK government to stop overfishing and lead the way in sustainable fisheries by setting catch limits in line with science.

Of the top 10 most economically important fish stocks for the UK, 6 are overfished or their stock biomass is at a critical level: North Sea cod, North Sea herring, Southern North Sea crab, Eastern English Channel scallops, North East Atlantic blue whiting and North Sea whiting. Further, there is insufficient data to define reference points for North Sea anglerfish. Therefore, only 3 of the top 10 stocks upon which the UK fishing industry relies are both healthy and sustainably exploited: North East Atlantic mackerel, North Sea haddock and West of Scotland Nephrops. This is due to catch limits having been set at or below the recommended sustainable limits for preceding years, demonstrating the positive impact to be gained by following scientific advice.

“It is shocking to find that 6 out of 10 of the UK’s most important fish stocks are overfished or in a critical situation. This report provides clear evidence that setting catch limits higher than those recommended by scientists is causing stocks of some of the UK’s best-loved fish, like cod, to rapidly decline. Those currently taking part in negotiating catch limits for 2021 must set them in line with scientific advice and not push for continued overfishing,” said Melissa Moore, Oceana’s head of UK policy. “There is an opportunity and a responsibility for the UK to lead the way in achieving sustainable fisheries. Ensuring catches of shared stocks are fully aligned with scientific advice must be an absolute priority”, added Moore.

Of particular concern is cod, an iconic species in the UK, which has been significantly overfished over past years, primarily as a result of political decisions. Unsustainable fishing pressure, higher than that scientifically advised, has led to a series of cod stock declines and collapses, to the extent that currently none of the UK cod stocks can be considered as healthy and sustainably exploited.

The audit provides an evidence-based snapshot of the status of UK fish stocks and sets a benchmark for the state of these fisheries following the UK’s departure from the EU. It also shines a light on the devastating impact of the politically-motivated setting of catch limits higher than recommended by scientists. This evidence is particularly relevant and should inform the EU-UK negotiations on 2021 catch limits (Total Allowable Catches, or TACs) for shared fish stocks which have started this week. Oceana is urging the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the European Commssion to follow the best available science when setting catch limits. Failing to do so will result in the fishing industry itself, as well as coastal communities and marine life, suffering in the long run.

Key facts from Oceana’s UK fisheries audit  

·       Negotiations for North East Atlantic TACs cover over 50 commercial species distributed among 200 different stocks.

·       The majority of fish landed in the UK from the North East Atlantic in 2019 (618,000 t, valued at £979 million) came from UK waters (81% by live weight and 87% by value). The second most important waters for the UK fleet were those of the EU, accounting for an additional 15% of landings (8% by value).

·       Of the 104 stocks audited 35.6% were healthy in terms of stock size, whereas 20.2% were in a critical condition. Data limitations mean the status of the remaining 44.2% cannot be determined, leaving them at greater risk of unsuitable management decisions.

·       Of the 104 audited stocks 37.5% were sustainably exploited prior to the UK leaving the EU, while 28.8% were being overfished and the exploitation status of another 33.6% cannot be assessed against Maximum Sustainable Yield reference points to guide management decisions.

·       About 70-90% of the landings by volume of the ‘top ten’ fish stocks come from Scottish vessels.

·       Now that the UK has left the EU, DEFRA will lead TAC negotiations for fish stocks shared with third parties (e.g. the EU or Norway).

·       The new UK Fisheries Act is the main framework regulation for the devolved management of the UK’s fish and shellfish resources and fisheries.

·       The UK is a net importer of seafood and the majority of UK catch is sold overseas, notably to markets within the EU (>720,000 t imported and >450,000 t exported).

 

 

Background and context

The UK´s decision to leave the EU and to regain the control of its waters has enormous consequences for the management of UK fisheries.

Within the last decade, the overfishing rate for fish populations in European Atlantic waters has dropped from roughly 66% to 38% due to the strong EU fisheries regulatory framework (including the Common Fisheries Policy). It is essential that this trend continues and accelerates so that overfishing finally becomes a thing of the past and so that marine ecosystems are given the chance to rebound and build resilience to large-scale threats such as climate change.

Oceana’s UK fisheries audit collates and presents the range of biological and socio-economic evidence that should underpin management decisions, like the setting of TACs or the proposal of fisheries management plans.

Oceana advocates for TAC limits in line with scientific advice and set at or below Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) fishing rates - a scientifically determined number for the maximum fish catch that will allow fish populations to recover and reproduce.

To achieve sustainable fisheries and healthy marine ecosystems, it is vital that the UK government, in its bid to become a world leader in fisheries management, uphold the vision of ‘clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse seas’ set out in the UK’s Marine Strategy.

For further information click here.

Read the full UK fisheries audit here. 

See gallery of pictures from the report here.

Economy

Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro

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Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.

President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”

The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi. 

European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.

Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.

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EU

European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case

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An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (16 February), writes .

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.

In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.

Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.

For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.

The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.

Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.

A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

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EU

Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation

EU Reporter Correspondent

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On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.

At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.

The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.

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